Are Google Ad Results Racist? (Updated)

It's tough to imagine computers and robots and electrical wiring being racist but a Harvard study has found "significant discrimination" in advertising results depending on the perceived race of the name you search for. Names typically associated with black people produced more ads related to crime. Searches for white names would be harmless.

That would be, um, racist. The study, done by Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney, found that names that are perceived as more black (Kareem, Leroy and Keisha) were 25% more likely to have advertisements that read 'Arrested?' from a website that does criminal record checks than names that weren't black. Those other names (Brad, Luke and Katie) just had ads for websites that offer generic contact details.

But is that Google being racist? Or the people (that would be us) using Google who are racist? Sweeney suggests that Google's algorithm to display ads may have found a certain ad getting more clicks versus another ad when searching the same name. EVERYBODY IS A RACIST. [BBC via Geekosystem]

Update: A Google spokesperson passed along Google's official statement:

AdWords does not conduct any racial profiling. We also have a policy which states that we will not allow ads that advocate against an organization, person or group of people. It is up to individual advertisers to decide which keywords they want to choose to trigger their ads.